• Cataclysm. Homage to Howard Putzel.
  • Combinable Wall 1 & 2.
  • Goliath.
  • Indian Summer.

Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Through July 21, 2019


“Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction,” the exceptional and significant new retrospective by the world-renown and influential abstract artist, Hans Hofmann (1880–1966) at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), presents a fresh look at creations spanning Hofmann’s 30 years of studio work in the United States, as well as one piece from his former homeland in Germany. With over 65 paintings, it includes art on loan from the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum, as well as many from private collections that have not been publically shown before. Over two-thirds of the show is from the holdings of BAMPFA, which houses the most extensive museum collection of Hofmann’s work in the world.

As a young man in the early 1900s, Hofmann left Germany to study and paint in Paris, where he worked with Matisse and became friends with Picasso, Braque, and Robert and Sonia Delaunay.  His art was also appreciably influenced by Cézanne and the Cubists. Some of his paintings at BAMFPA recall those early influences, including “Still Life—Round Table on Red with Palette and Painting,” 1938.

BAMPFA’s unique history with Hofmann began when he received an invitation to teach art at UC Berkeley. The offer enabled him to leave Europe and permanently settle in the United States in 1932. The move was the beginning of his lengthy and influential career as an avant-garde painter and teacher of generations of well-known artists. Until 1958, Hofmann taught painters including Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, Ray Eames, Larry Rivers, Allan Kaprow, Irene Rice Pereira, Israel Levitan, Robert De Niro, Sr., Worth Ryder, Jane Freilicher, Wolf Kahn, Marisol Escobar, Richard Stankiewicz, and Lillian Orlowsky.

Hofmann’s own canvases during this period led to successful exhibits and the creation of his early abstract expressionist works, which emphasized color, form, and space. Hofmann painted “Cataclysm (Homage to Howard Putzel),” 1945, in memory of Putzel, a gallerist who had championed Hofmann and the young Jackson Pollack.

Hofmann’s paintings between 1958 until his death in 1966 are his most well-known abstract expressionist efforts. These are larger canvases with insets of vibrant colors and shapes, like the striking “Indian Summer,” 1959, “Goliath,” 1960, and “Combinable Wall I and II,” 1961.

In 1963, Hofmann donated to UC Berkeley nearly 50 of his most important paintings, along with a substantial cash contribution toward the construction of a new museum building, in appreciation of his first U.S. position. Although the 1970 Mario Ciampi-designed brutalist structure on Bancroft Way that Hofmann’s gift helped construct is no longer occupied by BAMFPA, Hofmann’s generosity established 20th century painting as a significant strength of BAMPFA’s collection, which still shines brightly today.

Throughout his long career, Hofmann continually experimented with the expressive properties of color, form, and space. His exuberant, vibrant canvases retain their modernity, energy, and the tension of expansion and contraction, or what Hofmann called “push and pull.” This scholarly and satisfying exhibit brilliantly shows off Hofmann’s talent and originality.

This article originally appeared on Berkeleyside.

By Emily S. Mendel


©Emily S. Mendel 2019    All Rights Reserved.

San Francisco ,
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to culturevulture.net since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for berkeleyside.com.